Tomorrow, rank and fame for none may be/ so today thy weary soul set free/ Drink with me, love, once more beneath the moon/ she oft may shine again, but none on thee and me. – Omar Khayyam (1058-1132 AD)
Since the beginning of civilisation till present day Iran, a series of people have invaded and conquered the region and thus exposing the land to new customs, beliefs and food.The ancient Babylonians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, and Turks are just a few of the groups that have had an influence on Iranian culture and its cuisine.
India also has adapted foods from the Persia. When the Mughals invaded India in 1526, they brought with them ingredients from the Persian cuisine, which they highly admired. A northern Indian cuisine called mughlai is modeled after what the Persians commonly ate: mounds of rice seasoned with saffron (kesar), topped with nuts, raisins, and various meats. Dishes such as kofta and pulao are now common to both Iranians and northern Indians.
Most people tend to frequently confuse ‘Persian food’ with ‘Arabic food.’ Although Persian and Arabic cultures share similar culture, ingredients and also find their origins to be similar, they are not really same.
Chef Rehman Mujeebur of The Royal Cuisines of India who specialises in Awadhi, Mughlai, Rampuri, Kashmiri and Hyderabadi cuisines, after careful curation has brought to India authentic Persian/Iranian cuisine and to compliment it Chef Mona has come down from Iran to render an authentic touch and expertise. Together they are hosting the ‘Persian Food Festival’ at Hotel Sahara Star in Mumbai, till the 12th of March.
The moment you step inside ‘Namak‘, the restaurant at Sahara Star, where this event is taking place, you’re transported to the mystic lands of Persia, the kind you’d watch and imagine in Alladin as a kid who used to watch Disney channel. They’ve beautifully lit the interiors with candles and the hues of the muslin curtains add the fine touch to it. The khurja crockery is a sight to behold and elevates the presentation.
Chef Rehman took great care in curating the dinner for us, what with us being vegetarians, it was a task to serve an authentic meal, which otherwise usually consists of meat. He asked us to sit back and to leave it to him to bring the best to our table. Well, in Chef we trust. We sat back, relaxed and soaked in the ambience.
The first thing that we were served as a welcome drink also doubles as palate cleanser – a Zafrani Sherbet – made with saffron, rose water and sugar syrup. Sweet and refreshing.
We tried the Ghogeh Jao next. It is a soup made of tomato, carrots and barley with chunks of boiled potatoes in it. As you sip it, the tanginess of it touches you and then the spicy yet soothing flavours take over. I really liked this unique take on the soup. I enquired from Chef Rehman a little more about it and found out that the Iranians usually consume soup as a meal in itself, hence it is loaded with vegetables, meat etc. and the barley seeds help in digestion. A well balanced meal, I say!
The starters consisted of the usual tandoori paneer, but wait, this was nothing like it. It wasn’t heavily marinated, it was a very simple and light preparation with pepper, sesame powder and pomegranate paste. Very unusual but delicious nonetheless. The falafel were crisp and had a balanced flavour. My favourite though, was the Mavoha Tanur – tandoori fruits in marinated in sesame and peanuts paste. The sweetness of the fruits, the smokiness of the tandoor and the spiciness from the marination – magical!
The main course consisted of Paneer Fasanjah – which was cottage cheese simmered in pomegranate, powdered walnuts and mild spices. Nothing like the paneer you’d usually have in the Mughali cuisine. Dal Adas is another unique dish made with masoor dal, potatoes and sumac and then tempered with onion and garlic. Khuresh Bamiyan – a preparation made of okra, onion, garlic, tomatoes and split chick pea stew was my favourite, with its spicy flavour and course texture. Served alongside these were naan garnished with sesame, saffron and nigella seeds.
Fresh green herbs are frequently used, along with fruits such as plums, pomegranate, quince, prunes, apricots, and raisins. Characteristic Iranian flavourings such as saffron, dried lime, cinnamon, and parsley are mixed and used in some special dishes.
To end this fabulous meal on a sweet note, we devoured the Ghotab, what Chef Rehman fondly calls, ‘Persian Gujiya‘ and Halwa-e-sheer, made of pistachio, almonds, saffron and nuts. We couldn’t have asked for a better climax to this Persian culinary journey.
The Persian Food Festival is being celebrated at Hotel Sahara Star in Mumbai
till March 12, 2017.